Wichita — Hoping to receive 20 minutes from Udoka Azubuike on Saturday, Kansas coach Bill Self said he thought Azubuike was the team's most valuable player with the way he provided offense in the post and defended Seton Hall center Angel Delgado in a 83-79 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
"We won the game because of Dok," Self said. "That kid would've had 35 and 34 if Dok didn't play. I'm really, really thankful and proud of him for his attitude and coming back so quick."
Advancing to the Sweet 16, Self said he doesn't want to get caught up in how the team played as long as the Jayhawks continue to win.
"We have to win two more games to get where we want to go but so proud of our kids and certainly nobody can say they haven't had a great season," Self said. "Now we have to go make great (turn into) special."
Wichita — In the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004, Seton Hall’s basketball players were going to be confident against any team they were matched up against.
With experience against No. 1 seeds Villanova and Xavier during Big East play, they know what it’s like to play the top teams in the country. The Pirates had an 0-4 record against the top two teams in the Big East, taking Villanova to overtime on Feb. 28 at home. They lost both road games against eventual top-seeded opponents by double digits.
Preparing to take the floor versus top-seeded Kansas at 6:10 p.m. Saturday (TV: TBS) at Intrust Bank Arena, the Pirates expect they’ll be loose when the opening jump ball is tossed in the air.
“There’s no pressure,” Seton Hall sophomore guard Myles Powell said. “We’ve been doing this all year. We’ve been tested all year. It’s nothing new. They tie their shoes just like we tie our shoes. We’re not looking at them like they are something special and we’re not. We’re just going to come out and play our game.”
Seton Hall’s players agreed that Kansas plays a different style than what they saw against Villanova and Xavier, but they value the experience of playing a top team.
Instead, several players said the Jayhawks reminded them of Texas Tech. Seton Hall beat the Red Raiders, 89-79, at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 30.
“It doesn’t put no fear in our heart or anything because we’ve been here before and we know we can play with anybody in the country when we’re playing our game,” Powell said.
Sophomore guard Eron Gordon added: “I think that it’s given us the experience to be prepared and make sure we stay composed.”
After a first round victory over North Carolina State, the Pirates turned their attention to Kansas with two film sessions and a walkthrough before their early afternoon media sessions. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said players probably weren’t happy with him with an early wake-up call.
“When you're playing as good a basketball team as you are in Kansas, you need to do all the little extra things to try to give yourself a chance to win,” Willard said. “You just can't treat it like you're playing any other team. They're just too good.”
Confident in their preparation to play Kansas, the Pirates hope their experience in road games against Xavier and Villanova, along with other big crowds at Creighton and Louisville, will only benefit them in front of a pro-KU crowd in Wichita.
Sitting inside of a cramped visitor’s locker room at Intrust Bank Arena — home of the Wichita Thunder minor league hockey team — the Pirates said they are entering their second-round game like many of their other games.
“Regular road game,” Powell said. “We expected something like this. Yesterday they had us in the nice locker room, now look where we’re in. It’s just little stuff like that just helps fuel the fire. I feel like we’ve played better at road games than home. We’re definitely going to be ready.”
Led by a talented senior class, Seton Hall finished third in the Big East and earned its first NCAA Tournament victory in 14 years.
The reward of Thursday’s 11-point victory over North Carolina State is a second-round matchup against top-seeded Kansas (6:10 p.m., TBS) on Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena. The Pirates have won five of their last seven games following a four-game losing streak at the beginning of February.
Kansas players compared Seton Hall’s style of play to West Virginia. Delgado provided a strong post presence and he’s surrounded by physical guards.
“The way they go about doing their business is different,” Self said of the comparison between Seton Hall and WVU. “But I think from a physical standpoint they certainly kind of look that role.”
Playing Texas Tech, its only Big 12 opponent this season in non-conference play, the Pirates (22-11) earned a 10-point victory at Madison Square Garden in November.
Fun fact: With a victory against Seton Hall, Bill Self will pass Roy Williams for the most wins among KU coaches in the NCAA Tournament. Self owns a 34-13 record in the tournament while Williams went 34-14.
Series history: The series is tied, 1-1. Seton Hall won the first meeting in 1988 in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout. Kansas followed with a win in 2001 in the fifth-place game of the Maui Invitational.
BREAKING DOWN SETON HALL
No. 20 — F Desi Rodriguez | 6-6, 220, sr.
A second-team all-Big East selection, Rodriguez is averaging 17.9 points on 50.5 percent shooting from the field. He’s a 37.7 percent shooter from the 3-point arc, adding 4.9 rebounds per game. According to hoop-math.com, Rodriguez makes 67 percent of his shots that he takes at the rim.
Rodriguez missed three games at the end of the regular season with an ankle/foot, suffering a bone bruise. He’s scored at least 20 points in 12 games this season. Rodriguez ranks 14th in school history in scoring.
In the NCAA Tournament: Scored 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting with three rebounds and two steals in 29 minutes.
- “I'm a fan of Kansas,” Rodriguez said. “But now I'm not no more, just for this game. But I watch their games a lot. Their games come on TV a lot. Just going through a variety of games, that's the best game on TV. They always give you a good game. Other than the other scouting report my coach is going to give me, I got a great scouting report myself.”
No. 31 — C Angel Delgado | 6-10, 245, sr.
A double-double machine and second-team all-Big East choice, Delgado has 21 double-doubles this season. The Big East’s all-time leader in rebounds, Delgado is averaging 13.3 points and 11.5 boards, shooting 50 percent from the field.
Delgado, from the Dominican Republic, takes 55.5 percent of his shots at the rim, according to hoop-math.com. He ranks second on the team with 22 blocks.
In the NCAA Tournament: Recorded 13 points (4 of 7 shooting), nine rebounds and four assists before fouling out in 25 minutes.
No. 13 — G Myles Powell | 6-2, 195, so.
Capable of heating up at any time, Powell is averaging 15.5 points on 37.8 percent shooting from the 3-point arc. But he’s been in a funk, making 9 of his last 45 attempts from deep. Beyond his shooting, Powell is second on the team in assists (2.8 per game) and steals (1.0 per game).
In the NCAA Tournament: Making 10 of his 12 attempts at the free-throw line, he scored 19 points (1 of 7 shooting from 3) with nine rebounds.
No. 0 — G Khadeen Carrington | 6-4, 195, sr.
Seton Hall’s top free throw shooter (83.6 percent), Carrington has scored 15.2 points per game while shooting 35.3 percent from the 3-point line. The dean’s list student leads the Pirates with 36 steals and dishes 4.5 assists per game. He’s scored more than 20 points in five of the team’s last six games.
In the NCAA Tournament: Scored a team-high 26 points vs. N.C. State, making 6 of his 14 shots (3 of 5 from deep) while earning 13 trips to the free-throw line in 32 minutes.
No. 14 — F Ismael Sanogo | 6-8, 215, sr.
Playing off of the bench, Sanogo has produced 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Focusing on defense, he leads the team with 29 blocks and ranks second with 33 steals. When he does look to score, he’s shooting 54.9 percent from the field (45.8 percent on 24 attempts from 3).
In the NCAA Tournament: Finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, snagging two steals while shooting 4 of 6 from the floor.
ONE THING SETON HALL DOES WELL
It’s no surprise with such a talented rebounder like Delgado, but Seton Hall entered the NCAA Tournament ranking 29th in the nation in offensive rebounding rate. The Pirates snagged 34.1 percent of their misses, tops in the Big East.
ONE AREA SETON HALL STRUGGLES
The Pirates have trouble forcing turnovers, ranking 196th in the nation in turnover percentage defense. That allows opposing teams to settle into their offenses. In their eight losses against Big East opponents, the Pirates failed to force more than seven turnovers in three of them.
MEET THE COACH
Kevin Willard is in his eighth season at Seton Hall, guiding the team to its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. He’s led the Pirates to four 20-win seasons. Prior to his time at Seton Hall, he was the head coach for three seasons at Iona.
Described as a player’s coach, Willard spent time as an assistant at Louisville and with the Boston Celtics. Willard’s father, Ralph, was a former head coach at Holy Cross, Pittsburgh and Western Kentucky.
Kansas by 4. I don’t think it’s a particularly great defensive matchup for Kansas, especially if Udoka Azubuike is still limited from his knee injury. But the Pirates have struggled against high-scoring offenses this season and aren’t among the top teams in defending the 3-point line.
My prediction: Kansas 81, Seton Hall 72. Bobby’s record vs. the spread: 16-13.
Wichita — Playing tough road games is nothing new for Seton Hall. That’s life in the Big East, which included games at Butler, Creighton, Villanova, Xavier and Providence.
After traveling to play those NCAA Tournament teams, the Pirates plan to have the same road game, us-against-the-world approach when they play Kansas in the second round at 6:10 p.m. Saturday (TV: TBS) at Intrust Bank Arena.
“We’re in Kansas aren’t we? It’s a road game,” senior forward Ismael Sanogo said. “The NCAA did a good job of making it easier for them but we’re a tough team and we can handle it.”
The Pirates (22-11) advanced with a 94-83 victory over North Carolina State in the first round of the tournament Thursday. In true road games this season, they’ve posted a 5-6 record with victories over Louisville, Butler and Providence.
Kansas has certainly felt the home-state advantage in Wichita, drawing more than 13,000 people to an open practice on Wednesday. Intrust Bank Arena announced 14,390 people attended KU’s 76-60 win over Penn in the first round, a majority cheering for the Jayhawks.
“The fans really did a good job of getting them back in it,” Penn guard Darnell Foreman said. “You know what I mean? Their support was never wavering.”
KU coach Bill Self believes there’s some added pressure playing close to home, referencing last season’s Elite Eight loss to Oregon at Sprint Center in Kansas City — "I think the guys felt like that every fan was holding their breath every possession" he said.
The Jayhawks have a 5-0 all-time record in Wichita, winning their first NCAA Tournament game in the city since 1981 on Thursday.
“It's definitely more positive than not positive, without question,” Self said. “But I don't think it plays a huge role in certain segments of a game. But when you get rolling or you get on a little roll, it definitely gives you momentum, the fans do.”
In the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, they picked up their first tournament win in 14 years. Minutes after playing N.C. State, most of the Seton Hall players said they were unfamiliar with Kansas and knew they would be logging several hours of watching film when they weren’t practicing.
But they are confident that they can avoid allowing the crowd to affect them in any negative way.
“It’s like you are going to another away game,” Seton Hall senior center Angel Delgado said. “We’ve been doing this for the whole year. It’s kind of easy for us to have the (road) mindset.”